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Sheila Lowe on Getting Started

Sheila Lowe is the author of the Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting series and the Beyond the Veil series. You can find out more about her here, see her books here, and read her last post here.

August 3, 2021 was release day for Dead Letters, the eighth book in my Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting suspense series. It takes a lot of effort to write, release, and promote any new book, so I gave myself some time to do all that, and then some more time to clear my mind and ready it for the next plot. At least, that was my excuse.

I had some vague ideas for the next book, which would be in my Beyond the Veil paranormal series. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t seem to get going. The weeks literally Zoomed by (Is anyone else suffering Zoom fatigue?!) and the pages in my fancy and expensive notebook remained blank. Some people seem to have ideas that come like sneezes, two, three, ten at a time. I need an old fashioned crank to get going. So, I called in the big guns—my author friend, Raul Melendez (pen name Peter Sexton), who happens to be an idea machine.

We went to breakfast and I told him generally what I had in mind. Without even taking a breath, he started rolling out an intricate framework for The Last Door. Once the plot is in my head, I can run with it, so we brainstormed and tweaked the idea until I was clear on what I needed to do. The next step was to handwrite my outline. (Research shows that pen and paper tap into creativity much more than the keyboard, and I am, after all, a handwriting analyst).

For the next month, my outline just sat there, glaring at me every time I took it out and looked at it. But under the surface of my devious little brain, the plot simmered. And nearly two weeks into the new year, something happened.

Go!

I woke up on January tenth and something was different. I knew I was back. Don’t get me wrong—I’m always writing something, but when it’s not a book, it’s mostly non-fiction about handwriting—a completely different story, if you’ll forgive the expression. I was ready to write Chapter One. Well, those two words, anyway. After looking at them for a while, I followed those words with two whole paragraphs.

But I wasn’t happy with what I’d written. For a few days, I kept trying to figure out what was wrong until I got the Aha! moment. The answer was something I’ve discovered holds true most of the time when I’m unhappy with a scene: I was rushing through, rather than developing it with care, which means word by word. I fixed it. I liked it. And wrote more. Finished the chapter. Wrote Chapter Two, and in writing, discovered more about the story.

So, as of last night, I’m 4,000 words in. That’s only 5% of an 80,000 word book. But it’s 4,000 words! It’s a start. My daily goal is 1,000 words. While that may not be much for some, it’s doable for this writer, and if I’m on a roll 1,000 is just a start; there are no limits.

Now, instead of feeling slightly guilty for not working on a book (“publish or perish” doesn’t apply only to academia), I am excited because something cool is happening at last. In fact, today, I need to work on a class I’m teaching in forensic document examination, but I’d rather be writing Chapter Three. For me, that is a pretty big deal.

How about you, fellow writers? Do ideas and plotting come easy? I’d love to hear about your process.

Sheila Lowe

Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert and author whose Forensic Handwriting mystery series features Claudia Rose, whose career as a document examiner and handwriting analyst mirrors Sheila’s own, and the Beyond the Veil Series about a young woman who reluctantly communicates with dead people who want her to do stuff for them. Follow Sheila on her website, claudiaroseseries.com, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Laurie Buchanan

    Sheila — And while I have an overarching umbrella idea of what the book is about, the actual writing of it is like what writer E. L. Doctorow said: “It’s like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights illuminate, but you can make the whole trip that way, you see.” When I go to bed at night, that’s when the headlights show me what’s next. When I wake up, I run with what the light revealed.

    1. Sheila Lowe

      A really good analogy, especially for me (I cannot drive at night anymore).

  2. Sheila, what a great post to shine a spotlight on the “author condition.” People usually ask us where we get our ideas, and the answer varies widely depending on who you ask. For me, coming up with the idea for the next book varies depending on how the last book ended. And I need time to percolate, come up with subplots that feed into the main plot, and then build the energy to get started. I used to write outlines but haven’t done so for the last four books. I know pretty much where I’m going, but I have to let the story unfold to know how I’m going to get there. So glad you’re writing the next book in the Beyond the Veil series, because I love it! Can’t wait to see what happens next!

    1. Sheila Lowe

      The writing journey is a process, isn’t it. While I have a general outline for The Last Door, It’s always about where the story takes me. I’m with you!

  3. saralynrichard

    Congratulations on getting your groove back, Shelia. Like every other big initiative, starting a book begins with inspiration, resolve, and commitment–all of which occur in the mind.

    1. Sheila Lowe

      Thanks, Saralyn. It was a huge relief to know I’d not totally lost it! Now it’s keeping all three going.

  4. Sherrill Joseph

    Sheila, thanks for your post. My process for starting a new book and maintaining momentum are very similar to yours. I have to take a break between books in order to crank out a new one. Once I have a general plot and a subplot, I think of possible adventures my detectives might undertake. Then, I craft chapter titles in a makeshift table of contents, which serves as my only outline. Since I’m a pantser, I let the action unfold as it may, listening to what my characters and the moment suggest, revising chapter titles to match. I look forward to your next book. All the best to you and your creations!

  5. Sheila Lowe

    Thanks, Sherrill. I read about people who write a book every two months and have to wonder how long those books are! My goal is 80,000 words and I usually go a bit over that. I like your ToC as an outline!

  6. Christine DeSmet

    Nice post! Each writer is so different in their methods, which means wonderful, different books! I know several writers who do write a book a month or so and they do indeed write books of 90,000 or more words as well as shorter ones. I wrote my first Fudge Shop Mystery book (First-Degree Fudge) in one month (first draft) and it was 98,000 words. I like to write a first draft within a month, and the draft is based on the classic five-stage plot-point outline, then I let things percolate and don’t panic about time going by. I like to finish within 6 months. Like Laurie Buchanan, I tend to “write” and embellish the plot and characters during my sleep and on walks. People have heard me say that I ask a character or plot question that needs solving, then take it for a walk. I always find the answer by the end of the walk.

    1. Sheila Lowe

      I am completely exhausted by the thought of writing a book of that length in a month. It takes me longer than that to find an idea. You must work nonstop!

  7. Laurie Stevens

    Like Christine, I too find that “putting it out into the universe” gives me the much needed problem-solving or inspiration I need. It’s the trusting that it will happen is the hard part!

  8. Sharon Lynn

    Great post, Sheila! And it’s so good to know that other writers go through that same process. Sometimes I’ll write 4000 words before I get to my first sentence. Sort of, on paper brainstorming.

  9. I’ll usually start with an idea, get about four chapters in, then realize I’d better get an outline down or I’ll never finish. It’s just waiting for all the plot pieces to fall into place that makes me crazy!

  10. joyribar

    Excellent post, Sheila and it certainly resonates with me. I, too, take a break after a book, partly for the mental aspect of it but even more because my focus shifts to promoting, marketing and appearances. But the ideas for the next book and story are always itching right below the surface, knocking around my brain. I can work out the big plot points on paper, but I’m constantly fine-tuning along the way as I write chapter by chapter, and I’m always ready for the plot to be highjacked by a better idea that comes along the journey. Best of luck with your new venture.

    1. Sheila Lowe

      Promo/marketing is definitely a different mindset. And yes, those simmering ideas never stop. Which is a good thing 🙂

  11. Jacqueline Vick

    Sometimes I’ll have the book plotted out in Plottr, get going, and then some plot point will change. And I’m frozen in inactivity until a spark comes that sends it in the right direction. Writing consistently is hard! Especially when other, fresh ideas are floating around.

    1. Sheila Lowe

      It’s so interesting to hear about everyone’s process!

  12. Avanti Centrae

    Such interesting insights into the mysterious creative process. My next thriller is percolating, but has yet to reveal itself. I’ve learned to be ok with that. Nice to hear about the variety of approaches.

  13. Tracey Phillips

    Sheila, I’m right with you! I finished two manuscripts in January… I know, overachiever. But allowed myself time to rest between those stories and starting a new one. One week turned into two, and well, you know how it goes. You put it perfectly in your post! This weekend I finally started the next book, and today I wrote chapter two. Onward we go! Thanks for sharing.

  14. marilynlevinson

    I believe I have ADD so I’m always amazed when a book gets finished. It’s hard for me to sit down and get the words out, but once I’m in the zone I’m fine. I plot my book in my head, write an outline, and allow for many additions and surprises. Somehow this method works fine for me.

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